THE ISSUE IS NOT THE VACCINE OR THE PANDEMIC — Giorgio Agamben in La Stampa
English translation of mine of Giorgio Agamben’s intervention in LaStampa on July 30, 2021.
“It is important to first of all clarify that the problem for me is not the vaccine, as in my previous interventions in question was not the pandemic, but the political use that is made, that is, the way in which they have been governed since the beginning.”
What is most striking in the discussions on the green pass and the vaccine is that, as it happens when a country slips, without realizing it, in fear and intolerance — and undoubtedly this is happening today in Italy — is that the reasons perceived as contrary are not only not in any way taken seriously, but are rejected hastily, when they do not become purely and simply the subject of sarcasm and insults.
It would seem that the vaccine has become a religious symbol, which, like any creed, acts as a watershed between friends and enemies, the saved and the damned. How can a thesis claim to be scientific and non-religious when it renounces the scrutiny of divergent views? For this reason it is important to first of all clarify that the problem for me is not the vaccine, as in my previous interventions in question was not the pandemic, but the political use that is made, that is, the way in which they have been governed since the beginning.
To the fears that appeared in the document I signed with Massimo Cacciari, someone has unwisely objected that there was nothing to worry about, “because we are in a democracy”.
How is it possible that we don’t realize that a country that has been in a state of exception for almost two years now and in which decisions that severely restrict individual freedoms are taken by decree (it is significant that the media even speak of “Draghi’s decree”, as if it emanated from a single man) is no longer in fact a democracy?
How is it possible that the exclusive concentration on contagions and health prevents us from perceiving the Great Transformation that is taking place in the political sphere, in which, as happened with Fascism, a radical change can actually occur without the need to alter the text of the Constitution?
And shouldn’t it give pause for thought that the exceptional measures and the measures introduced from time to time are not given a definitive deadline, but are incessantly renewed, almost as if to confirm that, as governments never tire of repeating, nothing will ever be the same again and that certain freedoms and certain basic structures of social life to which we were accustomed are cancelled sine die?
While it is certainly true that this transformation — and the growing depoliticization of society that results from it — have been underway for some time, is it not all the more urgent that we pause to assess its extreme outcomes while we still can?
It has been observed that the model that governs us is no longer the society of discipline, but the society of control -but how far can we accept this control going?
It is in this context that the political problem of the green pass must be posed, without confusing it with the medical problem of the vaccine, to which it is not necessarily connected (we have made all kinds of vaccines in the past, without this ever discriminating against two categories of citizens). The problem is not, in fact, only that, also very serious, discrimination against a class of citizens of series B: it is also that, which is certainly more at heart of the other governments, the widespread and unlimited control that it allows on holders, foolishly proud of their “green pass”. How is it possible -we ask once again- that they do not realize that, obliged to show their passes even when they go to the cinema or to a restaurant, they will be controlled in every movement? In our paper we drew an analogy with the “propiska”, i.e., the pass that citizens of the Soviet Union had to show in order to move from one place to another. This is an opportunity to clarify, as unfortunately it seems necessary, what a legal-political analogy is.
We have been accused without any reason of drawing a comparison between the discrimination resulting from the green pass and the persecution of the Jews. It should be pointed out once and for all that only a fool would equate the two phenomena, which are obviously very different. No less foolish, however, would be one who refused to examine the purely legal analogy — I am a trained jurist — between two regulations, such as the fascist one on Jews and the one on the institution of the green pass. Perhaps it is not unnecessary to point out that both provisions were taken by decree-law and that both, for those who do not have a merely positivist conception of law, are unacceptable, because — regardless of the reasons given — they necessarily produce that discrimination of a category of human beings to which a Jew should be particularly sensitive.
Once again, all these measures, for those who have a minimum of political imagination, must be placed in the context of the Great Transformation that the governments of societies seem to have in mind — assuming that it is not instead, as is also possible, a blind proceeding of a technological machine that has now escaped all control. Many years ago a commission of the French government summoned me to give my opinion on the establishment of a new European identity document, which contained a chip with all the biological data of the person and any other possible information about him. It seems clear to me that the green pass is the first step towards this document whose introduction has been delayed for some reason.
One last thing I would like to draw the attention of those who want to dialogue without insulting. Human beings cannot live if they do not give themselves reasons and justifications for their lives, which in every age have taken the form of religions, myths, political beliefs, philosophies and ideals of all kinds. These justifications seem today — at least in the richest and most technologized part of humanity — to have failed, and men are perhaps for the first time faced with their pure biological survival, which, it seems, they prove unable to accept.
This alone can explain why, instead of assuming the simple, amiable fact of living alongside one another, the need has been felt to establish an implacable health terror, in which life without any more ideal justification is threatened and punished at every moment by disease and death. Just as it makes no sense to sacrifice freedom in the name of freedom, so it is not possible to renounce, in the name of bare life, that which makes life worth living.